Dinner at my house always comes with a side of agonizing political debates. Today’s sizzling side dish was Islamophobia, served on a hot plate of ignorance with a light garnishing of false information. The beef eating, Hindu women stealing invaders were coming for us and we had to protect ourselves. Not only from the demonic bearded males, but from the burqa clad Muslim women waiting to terrorize our nation.
As I clenched my teeth trying to avoid the poisonous effect of this rather distasteful side dish, I noticed that the women in my upper class, upper caste Hindu family who were educated, self proclaimed feminists and so called “liberated modern Indian women” were also the forefront supporters and servers of this dish. “He will force you to wear a Burka if you marry him, Roohi! You will become like those poor Muslim women who can’t even leave their homes,” they said.
The rhetoric in play here was that Muslim men are inherently dominating, orthodox, sexual predators. The experience of the Muslim woman was insignificant – what mattered was the quest for liberation for the elite upper caste Hindu woman from the Muslim man. Why, my family members must be an anomaly I thought. How many privileged Hindu women could exist who could focus merely on the struggles of Hindu women while not only ignoring the struggles of Muslim women but also propagating a rhetoric that (intentionally or unintentionally) condones and perpetuates violence against them?
More than twenty five thousand apparently.
The illusion of liberation from normative gender roles lures in more than 25,000 women who are active members of the Durga Vahini camp, the female counterpart of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The camp teaches use of rifles, martial arts, along with vocational training for the young women and any other skill required for the growth of a Hindu nation, tactfully concealed under the guise of self defense. A juxtaposition of oppression and liberation exists in Durga Vahini where Hindu women are taught how to be independent, given fiscal aid and other resources to be independent while remaining under direct control of the Hindu man.
Ah. So not an anomaly! But still harmless?
The Babri Masjid riots of 1992, that aimed to destroy the Babri Masjid on the basis that a Hindu temple existed before it, was a violent act of terrorism in which fifty-five thousand Hindu women were among the two hundred thousand people who showed up to bomb the masjid and the individuals within it. Most of these women were a part of The Samiti, the female counterpart of the RSS.
A juxtaposition of oppression & liberation exists in Durga Vahini where Hindu women are taught to be independent while remaining under control of the Hindu man.
Set up in a way to allow women to be a part of the Hindutva movement without posing any challenges or threat to its male counterpart and the leaders within it, the Samiti plays an integral role in the Hindutva movement. The Samiti provides numerous resources for its participants like counselling sessions, all girls boarding schools, hymn and worship classes and self employment centres aimed to allow the Hindu woman to be liberated, leave the traditional role of the housewife and step out of their homes.
The Samiti provides holistic services to Hindu women who wish to be a part of the movement. It has lead to the increase in female politicians and activists like Sadhvi Rithambara, who founded Durga Vahini and Uma Bharti who have gained enough power to mobilize masses of individuals in order to attain the Hindutva goal of a pure nation and protect Hindu women against the Muslim man. Both RSS and The Samiti have been implicated in numerous incidents of violence against the Muslim population in India.
Ah okay, so not harmless. But how are they condoning violence against Muslim women?
With liberation for the upper caste Hindu woman comes a side dish of oppression of the Muslim woman. An example being the 2002 Gujarat riots that were initially incited by the spread of a rumour that Islamic terrorists attacked fifty-eight Hindu passengers on a train – twenty-six of whom were women who were also raped by the Muslim men. This narrative of the violation of Hindu women, was once again used not only to justify the mass killings of Muslim individuals in Gujarat but also the sexual violation of Muslim women as a form of retaliation and establishment of power.
Another prime example of this being Yogi Adityanath, the current CM of Uttar Pradesh and proud Hindu nationalist who during elections riled up the crowd by saying, “If they kill even one Hindu, we will kill 100 (Muslims)”. The same rhetoric then was repeated through youth camps started by Adityanath by his followers, who vowed to sexually violate the corpses of deceased Muslim women. Today we see a similar rhetoric being implemented in cases like the brutal rape of Asifa Bano.
With liberation for the upper caste Hindu woman comes a side dish of oppression of the Muslim woman.
From a political debate on a family dining table to training camps, upper caste Hindu women remain complicit in their privilege and thus active participants in condoning violence against Muslim women. I like to call this “Hindutva Feminism” – a practice identical to what we call “White Feminism,” a concept Audre Lorde touches up on in “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” and explains as:
“White women ignor[ing] their built-in privilege of whiteness and defin[ing] woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other,” the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend.”
By ignoring this built-in privilege of Hindu-ness, we replicate a power dynamic similar to that of the White feminism. The upper class, upper caste Hindu woman defines womanhood in terms of her own experiences, creating a “respectable femininity” that excludes and in turn, oppresses the “other” or lower caste women.
For example, the “new,” “modern,” “Indian,” woman is liberated, able to join the workforce and produce for the economy while still maintaining her household and upholding Hindu traditions. This “new” woman is the trope of modern India that is rapidly developing and growing its economy while still holding on to its traditions. However, what we often forget to acknowledge is the shadow labor that allows this new woman to exist – domestic workers, particularly what upper class India likes to call “maids” or “kaamwali.”
The paid domestic work sector is made up of 71% women, majority of whom belong to or are perceived as lower caste, have no unions, no minimum wage requirement implemented and no maternity leave. The Hindu practice of untouchability is cautiously preserved and practiced as separate bathrooms, utensils, and spaces to sit in are carefully and implicitly outlined for the domestic workers who are asked to perform majority of the household work but to occupy only its periphery.
With no legal protection, violence against non-dominant caste domestic workers is not uncommon or unheard of. One example out of the many is the high profile case of Jagriti Singh, a dental surgeon and an upper caste Hindu woman, who was arrested for torturing and murdering her domestic help. The new modern upper caste Hindu woman, by ignoring the experiences and labor of marginalized women from non-dominant castes, not only excludes them from the definition of “womanhood” but also allows the non-dominant caste Hindu woman to become collateral damage in the quest for equality.
What we as Hindu women often forget is the juxtaposition of oppression and privilege that exists within us. The Hindutva movement recognizes exactly this and creates a facade of liberation from which no one truly benefits – definitely not Muslim women but neither the upper caste Hindu woman nor the lower caste Hindu woman; all of whom become collateral damage in the fight for a Hindu nation. For example, during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Gauri, an upper caste Hindu woman living with a Muslim man, was brutally gang raped and abducted for her crime of associating with the enemy.
The new modern upper caste Hindu woman allows the non-dominant caste Hindu woman to become collateral damage in the quest for equality.
A similar ideology can also be seen in numerous incidents where lower caste Hindu bodies are disciplined, one (out of the many) example being the violence inflicted on Sangeeta, a 24 year old Dalit woman who along with her family, was beaten by upper caste Hindu men because they reportedly refused to pick up cow carcasses. The incident occurred in Karja village, Gujarat and Sangeeta was four months pregnant at the time. The Hindu female body that dares to digress from the agenda of a pure Hindu nation in any way is still punished either through acts of aggression or moral policing.
This tactic of a false liberation is so successful that people often even mistake Modi, the CM of Gujarat during riots and our current Prime Minister as a feminist. This tactic is so successful that the rape of a 8 year old, lower caste Muslim girl could occur on the land of the Hindu goddess, an often used symbol of the Hindu woman. In a country where fascism rests in power, we can no longer ignore the privilege that comes with being an upper caste Hindu. It is this upper caste privilege that not only created the Hindutva movement but is also allowing it to flourish. We can no longer ignore the fact that Asifa will never be “the daughter of India” and Nirbhaya shouldn’t have to be “the daughter of India” in order to attain liberation. We need a feminism that acknowledges all and not just some.
Liberation for some, is liberation for none.
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